By YN2 Travis J. Pawlikowski, 22nd NCR
Brig. Gen. David L. Weeks, (far left) 411th Engineer Brigade, Joint Task Force Empire commanding general, Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, commanding general of International Security Assistance Force Joint Command (center) and Capt. Kathryn A. Donovan, 22nd NCR commodore, discuss operations before the transfer of authority ceremony between the 22nd NCR and the 411th Engineer Brigade, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, July 31.
Seabees assigned to the 22nd Naval Construction Regiment (NCR), Task Force Stethem, took part in a transfer of authority ceremony at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, with the U.S. Army's 411th Engineer Brigade, Task Force Empire, July 31.
The ceremony signaled the end of a six-month deployment in Afghanistan for Sailors of the 22nd NCR. More importantly, it marks a historic moment in Seabee history as the 22nd NCR is the final regiment to have deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The unit deployed as Task Force Stethem in honor of Steelworker 2nd Class (DV) Robert Dean Stethem. In June 1985, Stethem was aboard TWA Flight 847 when it was hijacked by Hezbollah terrorists. When their demands were not met, Stethem was targeted as a member of the U.S. military and tortured.
Stethem was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, as he exemplified the Navy core values of honor, courage and commitment, sacrificing his life to save the lives of the other passengers onboard. In August 2010, he was frocked to the rank of honorary master chief petty officer.
The off-ramping of the unit is part of the surge recovery efforts to reduce American forces in the theater as NATO continues to transition control of the country to the Afghans. While units will continue the mission of Task Force Stethem, its presence will be missed in Afghanistan.
"The joint engineer force of Task Force Stethem demonstrated unflinching fortitude and dauntless courage while executing vital freedom of maneuver projects, force protection measures, water wells, bridges and tactical infrastructure builds to enhance combat power, command and control, and survivability for coalition forces combating insurgents in southern and western Afghanistan," said Capt. Kathryn A. Donovan, commodore, 22nd NCR, and commander, Task Force Stethem. "The enduring impact of these operations tangibly enabled three regional commands across Afghanistan to execute their counterinsurgency missions and directly contributed to accomplishing strategic objectives."
One of the most notable accomplishments of the regiment involved a partnership with the U.S. Air Force's 443rd Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron. Together, the Navy and Air Force trained and instructed Afghan engineers assigned to Kandahar Airfield and the 205th Corps of the Afghan National Army.
"It was a great mission to be a part of, knowing that you helped not only U.S. troops but the local citizens as well," said Constructionman Electrician 2nd Class Joshua Murphy, 22nd NCR. "It's a bittersweet moment though, after 10 years of a regiment being deployed, knowing you're the last one and all of the good you have accomplished here."